Learning How to Cook With the Pros

Neophyte cooks who are not quite ready to open up their homes to strangers can enlist plenty of help from the professionals. Across Europe, enthusiastic amateur cooks are booking all manner of classes at high-end restaurants and culinary institutes. At L'atelier des Chefs, which offers workshops in major French cities as well as in London and Dubai, busy executives can take 30--minute courses during their lunch breaks to learn how to make fresh mushroom and parmigiano risotto or roasted salmon back with orange and coriander–scented semolina. The goal: enjoy a good lunch while learning new skills in minimal time and at an accessible price (€15). At England's renowned Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons in Oxford, those in search of a gastronomic weekend mini-break can learn how to make French baguettes, choose herbs from the luxurious kitchen garden, and pick the right wine for a meal.

But cooking is only half the fun. Increasingly, cooking programs are emphasizing the social aspect of cuisine by inviting their students to sit together and eat what they've prepared. At Restaurante Roca Tranquila in Fuengirola, Spain, students savor appetizers like roasted sea bass and fried mussels in a special dining room set up just for them. And at Auberge La Fontaine aux Bretons in Pornic, France, professional waiters serve the students the dishes they created, such as bitter chocolate duck breast with raspberry vinegar or broad bean and orange sea bream tartar. Laure Patillot Heinnemann, who is in charge of the courses there, insists on the communal aspect of her classes, which aim to revive a culinary heritage that she fears is no longer being transmitted from generation to generation—a recurrent idea behind this growing trend of cooking classes.

For amateur chefs who start feeling more confident, a little Parisian restaurant called La Table de Claire offers the opportunity to become "chef for a night," on two conditions: that they are not already professionals, and that they're friendly. Claire Seban, the "real" chef, spends three days with clients, helping prepare the menu and, eventually, the meals, for 30 diners. The first 22 chefs even ended up producing a cookbook featuring their own portraits and favorite recipes, such as poached foie gras with marmelade and patato shot. It's the perfect chance to feel like a celebrity chef, without the tantrums or tell-all memoir.